Huck Finn in the classroom

January 14, 2011
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When it comes to the topic of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, most of us will agree that “Huck Finn” is one of the more racist American novels ever written. Where the agreement usually ends, however, is on the question of availability. Whereas some are convinced that Huck Finn should be banned indefinitely from classes and libraries, others maintain that the novel should be optional in classes and mandatory in libraries. This argument begins with the race issue; in fact many people think that because of the constant use of the n-word that the book should be banned. An example of Twain’s casual use of the word is when Huck describes Jim as “Miss Watson’s big [n-word]” (Twain, 3); Twain uses this word hundreds of times in the novel. When reading “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” I felt uncomfortable using the n-word because I was taught by my parents that the n-word is one of the worst words in the English dictionary and it should never be used as a defense or in every day conversation. When the word would come up in class or in reading at home I always replaced it with “n-word”. On the one hand, I agree with most people that “Huckleberry Finn” is a racist novel. But, on the other hand, I still insist that “Huck Finn” should be made available in all libraries.

I believe that “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” should be optional in high school curriculums. Allen Carey-Webb and Marylee Hengstebeck authors of the article “Racism and Huckleberry Finn: Censorship, dialogue, and change” argue that to successfully learn from “Huckleberry Finn” “begins with a careful look at the complex racial issues raised by the novel” (Carey-Webb, 2). Allen and Marylee reveal that many concerns come from black student s who felt that they had not been listened to and jump to the conclusion that teachers are narrow-minded. The problem is that many of these black students make the class stop reading the novel halting their understanding of the culture of the time period. With the first mention of the n-word, many black students jump to the conclusion that everyone in this book hates black people even though Huck “was ever so glad to see Jim” when Huck was making his escape after pretending to be murdered (Twain, 31). What students have to realize is that this book was published in 1885 and that it appeals to an 1885 audience not a current day audience. This novel should stay in high school curriculums because it has the ability to educate people who are ignorant of the time period.

Erasing “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” from high school curriculums, people think that they have solved the prejudice issue but the truth is they haven’t even scratched the surface. Paula Leider argues in her article “Does ‘Huck Finn’ Belong in My Classroom?” that maybe removing the novel wasn’t the right step to a prejudice free world. Upon closer research of Twain’s writing style, Leider thinks that “since Twain was a satirist… one view of the novel is as a criticism of post-civil war prejudices” (Leider, 1). Paula Leider, through her knowledge of civil war time periods understands the underlying theme of the novel which is not race but criticism of the southern culture. This theme is one that many classrooms skip when reading the novel. Most classrooms work off of the surface theme of race. In my opinion this problem comes from inadequate history curriculums and a failure to have students comprehend different cultural time periods. In fact many students when reading “Huckleberry Finn” do not understand what Huck is talking about when he tells Jim that “people would call me a low down Ablitionist” for keeping Jim’s run away a secret (Twain, 32). The fact of the matter is that many students, ignorant of 19th century culture, are thrust into this whole new time period with only slight education on one theme.
“Huckleberry Finn”, because of its historical significance, should be available in all libraries. Mark Franek and Nyaka NiiLampti support the argument that “[Huck Finn] should be available in every library in the world” (Franek, NiiLampti, 1). However because of prejudice issues they also think that “Huck Finn” should not be required reading in schools with a small African American population. I agree with Mark and Nyaka that “Huckleberry Finn” should be optional to all schools. Even in a class where there are equal numbers of white students as there are black students many of the white students will side with Huck because he appeals to them. The black students, however, will side with Jim because he stands for freedom and racial tolerance. Their children taking sides, parents will also join the fight which usually ends with the banning of “Huckleberry Finn”. The only way to combat these turn of events is to let the students decide if they want to read the novel.
“Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, an American novel by Mark Twain, is a tricky novel to teach in many schools. Teachers should let the students decide whether or not to read the novel. Student should take into consideration the following themes: satire, allegory, and maturation of Huck. I know first hand that these themes allow for a better understanding and appreciation of the novel. Also, libraries must have copies of “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” in stock at all times despite what people may think. A community should not be upset at local libraries for having this novel available because “Huck Finn” in no way increases racism or prejudice. Also, libraries must have a copy of “Huck Finn” available so if a school decides not to teach the novel a student who wanted to read it is able to do so. With these recommendations “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” will be available for generations to come so that students can read and enjoy.

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